Turkey-Algeria cooperation strengthens Ankara's influence in North Africa and facilitates its expansion in the Sahel

During a meeting in the Turkish capital, Erdogan and Tebboune forged closer ties on issues such as defence. The visit comes days after Ankara reiterated its support for Morocco's territorial integrity
PHOTO/AFP/Murat Kula/SERVICIO DE PRENSA PRESIDENCIAL TURCO  -   El presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (izquierda), y el presidente de Argelia, Abdelmadjid Tebboune (derecha), estrechándose la mano al final de una conferencia de prensa conjunta tras su reunión en la Oficina Presidencial en Argel

PHOTO/AFP/Murat Kula/TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE  -   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune after a meeting at the Presidential Office in Algiers.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to consolidate his influence in North Africa. To this end, he has invited his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, to Ankara. During this official visit, the first by an Algerian leader in 17 years, the two leaders signed 15 cooperation agreements in areas such as economy, trade, education, tourism, security and culture. In this regard, they agreed to open cultural centres in Turkey and Algeria.

More specifically, the two governments signed several memorandums of association related to social services, the environment, mining, technology, fisheries, transport, infrastructure, media and the fight against transnational organised crime. On this last point, Algiers could receive more opposition and political activists exiled in Turkey. 

PHOTO/SERVICIO DE PRESIDENCIA TURCA via AP - El presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, y el presidente de Argelia, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, durante una reunión al margen de la conferencia sobre Libia en la Cancillería de Berlín, el domingo 19 de enero de 2020
PHOTO/TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE via AP - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune during a meeting on the sidelines of the conference on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020.

However, if there is one area that stands out in the cooperation reached between Erdogan and Tebboune, it is defence. The Turkish leader has pledged to strengthen collaboration in this industry, according to the Turkish news agency Anadolu. This partnership includes Turkish arms sales, as the Turkish president announced that "many Turkish defence companies were in talks with Algeria".

However, this move could lead to tensions with Russia, Algeria's main arms supplier. "Russia will not accept any duplicity in Algeria's positions, be it arms or gas," Al-Arab notes.

"As two countries that play an important role in ensuring peace and stability on the African continent, we are determined to strengthen cooperation in the defence industry," Erdogan said, according to Turkey's Daily Sabah. 

El dron Anka, de 8,6 metros de largo y 17,6 metros de envergadura, fabricado en las enormes y ultraseguras instalaciones de Turkish Aerospace en Ankara, que abarcan 4 millones de metros cuadrados de hangares donde trabajan 10.000 personas, entre ellas 3.000 ingenieros AFP/ADEM ALTAN
AFP/ADEM ALTAN - The 8.6-metre long, 17.6-metre wingspan Anka drone, built at Turkish Aerospace's huge, ultra-secure facility in Ankara, which covers 4 million square metres of hangars and employs 10,000 people, including 3,000 engineers.
Algeria, the gateway to the Sahel for Turkey

Algeria stands to benefit from this military cooperation, while Turkey stands to gain economically, especially at a time when Turkey's economy is suffering a severe crisis. Arms cooperation allows Ankara to market its arms industry, while Tebboune has assured that the volume of investment with Turkey will increase by 10 billion dollars in the coming years.

In addition to seeking a lifeline for the national economy, Ankara is also fortifying its influence in North Africa with the aim of expanding into the Sahel at a time when France is losing its relevance in the region while Russia's is on the rise.

PHOTO/AP  -   Malienses se manifiestan contra Francia y en apoyo de Rusia en el 60º aniversario de la independencia de la República de Malí en 1960, en Bamako, Malí, el 22 de septiembre de 2020. La pancarta en francés dice: "Putin, el camino hacia el futuro"
PHOTO/AP - Malians demonstrate against France and in support of Russia on the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Mali in 1960, in Bamako, Mali, 22 September 2020. The banner in French reads: "Putin, the road to the future".

As political sources tell Al-Arab, the agreements signed by Erdogan and Tebboune are an opportunity for Ankara to take Algeria 'as a launching pad for its activities in North Africa, strengthen its role in Libya and Mali and put pressure on Tunisia, which refuses to fall under Turkish influence'. During a joint press conference, Erdogan acknowledged the importance of Algiers in the region. "We consider very much the role that Algeria plays in North Africa and in the Sahel".

The Sahel is an area where Ankara has for years been expanding its influence through soft power, taking advantage of the rise of anti-French sentiment in the region. In an interview with Jeune Afrique, French President Emmanuel Macron even accused Turkey of fuelling this sentiment on the African continent. As Crisis Group analyst Hannah Armstrong explains, Turkey's activities in the region focus particularly on 'development support and commercial engagement', although it has reached defence agreements with some governments in the region. 

AFP/DAPH BENOIT - Soldados malienses, parte del G5 Sahel, sentados en un vehículo mientras patrullan en la zona fronteriza con Burkina Faso y Níger, en una foto de archivo
AFP/DAPH BENOIT - Malian soldiers, part of the G5 Sahel, sit in a vehicle while on patrol in the border area with Burkina Faso and Niger, in a file photo.

Such moves obviously cause suspicion in other countries that, like Turkey, look with interest to the Sahel. "While many Sahelians have applauded Ankara's rapid advance in the region, some Persian Gulf and Western states have reacted negatively," adds Armstrong..

Common ground on Libya

Ankara has been trying for years to position itself as a key player in the region through the crisis in Libya, where it actively supports Abdul Hamid Dbeibé, head of the Government of National Unity (GNU). The country is once again witnessing armed clashes due to the recent arrival in Tripoli of Fathi Bashagha, appointed prime minister by the Tobruk parliament, despite the rejection of Dbeibé, the UN-backed acting prime minister. 

AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA  -   Fathi Bashagha
AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA - Fathi Bashagha

Turkey is no stranger to this political hurricane either. Last week Bashagha paid a surprise visit to Ankara after receiving an official invitation. During this meeting, the Libyan prime minister recognised by Tobruk reportedly asked Erdogan for support in his political struggle with Dbeibé

PHOTO/Presidencia turca vía AP - El presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a la izquierda, y el primer ministro Abdul Hamid Dbeibé del Gobierno internacionalmente reconocido de Libia, posan para las fotos antes de su reunión en Estambul, el sábado 7 de agosto de 2021
PHOTO/Turkish presidency via AP - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibé of Libya's internationally recognized government, in Istanbul Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021.

The crisis in Libya was also a topic discussed by Erdogan and Tebboune in Ankara. In the Turkish capital, the Algerian president reiterated his country's position. According to Algiers, the only solution is to "hold elections", something on which it agrees with the Turkish government. "There is no alternative to handing over the administration of the country to the Libyan people. We are already in mutual consultations with Turkey on this issue," Tebboune revealed. 

Ankara supports Morocco's territorial integrity and sovereignty 

Tebboune's official visit to Ankara comes just days after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated his support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of "brother Morocco". These statements came during a joint press conference in Marrakech between the head of Turkish diplomacy and his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita. Çavuşoğlu travelled to the Alawite kingdom to attend a meeting of the Global Coalition against Daesh. 

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores turco, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu
PHOTO/FILE - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister.

The Western Sahara region, recognised by many countries as part of Moroccan territory, is a point of dispute between Rabat and Algiers. Indeed, Spain's new position on the area has caused a rift with Algeria, which has recalled its ambassador to Madrid.